Assessing Antisemitism in Europe

Can Jews live openly and freely in Europe?  Where they can’t, why not? And what are their governments doing to address those problems?  These are the questions ADL asks when assessing antisemitism in Europe.

Antisemitism in Europe is – unfortunately – a broad, deep and multifaceted topic, but its main determinants can be reduced to four major factors: (1) Prevalence of antisemitic attitudes among the general population, which we measured by ADL’s Global 100 survey of antisemitic attitudes; (2) Number and nature (or severity) of antisemitic incidents; (3) Tolerance for antisemitic rhetoric in public, whether in politics or media; and (4) Actions (or inaction) by governments to counter and prevent antisemitism.  That last category of government action includes physical security for Jewish institutions, public denunciations of antisemitism by political leaders, prosecution of antisemitic hate crimes, and education against antisemitism.

Looking at these factors, ADL makes assessments in the five categories we consider the most significant: (1) political commitment, (2) physical security measures, (3) education about antisemitism, (4) incident reporting, and (5) law enforcement.

In 2021 we applied this matrix to eleven countries for a study commissioned by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom: Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, Sweden, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.  Nine of them have major European Jewish communities and two – Norway and Poland – have smaller communities but present interesting case studies.  We found that the eleven states have mixed records across the five significant categories. 

First is political commitment.  Political commitments to combat antisemitism have been made by all 11 governments on a regular basis since the 2004 “Berlin Declaration” of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).  Those commitments are put into action when political leaders regularly publicly condemn antisemitic incidents, when they confer with Jewish leaders on plans of action, and when governments have put in place national plans against antisemitism and have assigned national coordinators for those plans.  Such steps ensure efforts are made across government, putting emphasis on the most pressing issues and assuring that gaps are filled.  Among the exemplary governments in this respect are France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and the UK.

Next is physical security. With the exception of France, all Jewish community leaders ADL interviewed responded that physical security measures at Jewish institutions were adequate to the threats assessed. The most common complaint was that Jewish communities bore excessive financial burdens for necessary security measures such as private security guards.  Several governments covered all or a vast majority of security costs, including Hungary, Norway, and the UK.  

Third is education. The common and lamentable problem in this category is the absence of formal education about antisemitism outside the context of the Holocaust.  A repeated complaint from Jewish community leaders is that history textbooks include references to Jews only in the contexts of Biblical Israel, the Holocaust, and the modern State of Israel.  Largely absent are positive representations of Jewish contributions to national and world society.  Jewish leaders have long called for more positive examples to be taught as a means of dispelling antisemitic stereotypes of Jews as separate from – and parasitic on – the rest of society and concerned only with themselves. 

Fourth is incident reporting.  Antisemitic incident reporting should be systematic, public, informative, and actionable for policymakers.  Unfortunately, in too many cases, it is not.  Among the eleven states ADL studied, there were wide differences in the methods of data collection for antisemitic incidents, even in the more restrictive case of antisemitic hate crime, and differences in categorization.  Proper categorization is imperative, because different types of incidents will require different policy responses.  Vandalism may require more visible security measures, such as noticeable cameras or security personnel.  High numbers of assaults may dictate mobile police patrols within a certain perimeter of Jewish institutions. Illegal online hate speech may dictate more police resources for investigations or to liaise with social media platforms or in other areas.

Finally, law enforcement is key.  Jewish leaders were asked whether antisemitic crimes were adequately prosecuted as hate crimes.  The responses varied and included those who were generally satisfied (Sweden and the UK), those who were generally unsatisfied (France, Poland, Russia, and Ukraine), those who noted that some progress was being made but more is needed (Belgium and the Netherlands), and those who noted that too few cases existed to make an assessment (Hungary and Norway). 

We recognize and appreciate that antisemitism has not – to date – been a serious source of concern in Portugal. We hope the Portuguese government will fulfil their own political commitments to combat antisemitism, give due attention to the major factors identified above, and ensure that antisemitism remains a marginal issue in Portugal.